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What Australian mines need to know about reduced WES/OELs for dust

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As many stakeholders in the Australian mining industry are already aware, there have been recent legislative changes aimed at tightening occupational exposure limits (OELs) or workplace exposure standards (WES) for coal and silica dust in mining operations.

Here is a quick breakdown of the recent legislative changes aimed at improving air quality for both workers and local communities. 

Silica dust: On 1 July 2020, most states adopted Safe Work Australia’s recommendation to halve the WES for respirable crystalline silica from an eight hour time-weighted average airborne concentration of 0.1 milligrams per cubic metre (mg/m3) to 0.05 mg/m3. WA was the last of the states and territories to move to this standard on 27 October 2020 with the exception of Tasmania, which has currently remained observing the prior standards set in 2018.

Coal dust: As of 1 October 2022, all coal mines across the country will need to adhere to a new dust respirable exposure standard of 1.5mg/m3, which is a reduction from the previous standard of 2.5mg/m3. Queensland has already moved to adopt these standards and most of the other states and territories are planning to implement well prior to the deadline.

For a summary of the current WES by state for coal, crystalline silica and other inhalable not otherwise specified (NOS) see table 1 below:

Table 1: WES respirable coal, crystalline silica and inhalable NOS by major mining state

State Respirable crystalline silica dust (mg/m3) Respirable coal dust (mg/m3) Inhalable NOS (mg/m3)
NSW 0.05 1.5 (from 1 Feb 2021) 10.00
QLD 0.05 1.50 10.00
WA 0.05 1.50 (from 27 Oct 2021) ≤10.00

Sources and useful links:

Why Australian mines need to be proactive about legislation changes

It is an extremely positive sign to see that most states and territories are planning to implement the new coal OELs ahead of the October 2022 deadline. The changes to the legislation are ultimately designed to better protect the health of mine workers as well as the communities in close proximity to mining operations. 

In addition to reducing WES, mines from the west coast to the east coast understand the importance of fostering goodwill among local communities by proactively controlling visible dust emissions. 

Reducing both respirable and visible dust is a particularly prevalent issue for any mine located in close proximity to townships. While remote mines will need to adhere to dust OELs to keep their workforce safe, mines operating within or next to established communities also face the added challenge or reducing visible dust plumes that can threaten air quality and visible pollution in the nearby towns. These considerations have important consequences on a mine’s social licence to operate and in building goodwill with community stakeholders. 

How Dust-A-Side can help mines achieve reduced OELs for coal and silica dust and reduce visible dust emissions

Mines across the country are thinking more seriously about their dust control and mitigation strategies to meet the reduced OELs for coal and silica dust. 

To achieve consistent site-wide dust control and to most effectively stay within mandated OELs, mines must address each dust generation point separately with targeted solutions. This includes every stage of the mining process from pit to port. 

Many mines focus the majority of dust control efforts on haul road networks. However, it is absolutely critical for mines to tackle dust issues in relation to production/processing plants as well as activities where workers are directly exposed to dust in more confined spaces, such as underground mining and drilling or within processing plants. 

Dust-A-Side Australia works with mines in all states to implement dust control solutions for every single step of the material process flow and to provide targeted solutions at each critical point. 

Our experts look at each mine site from a holistic perspective. Our philosophy is to not just simply supply clients with dust control products that they need to apply themselves, but to work together to provide effective and targeted site-wide systems and solutions. 

With decades of experience to rely on, Dust-A-Side offers Australian mines the following solutions for actively reducing coal and silica dust levels.

  • Standard and custom designed dust suppression systems proven to reduce levels of respirable sized dust by 80%+ in common applications such as ROM and tip areas, crushing plants and stockpile feeds.
  • Holistic haul road management: Haul road maintenance programs and technologies proven to reduce operational dust levels by 90%+
  • Monitoring and analysis: Our range of revolutionary dust monitoring software helps mines to easily identify haul road defects as well as measure real-time


To learn more about our range of holistic dust control services, call us on + 1800 662 387. Or you can request a no obligation consultation by clicking here.